D’Albert’s Sonata in F sharp minor, Op 10, is an intriguing, ambitious enterprise. It marries many aspects of his craft. Dedicated to Hans von Bülow, it was published in 1893, as was his Second Concerto in E, written for Teresa Carreño. While the final movement of this massive sonata may look back, Orpheus-like, the concerto is, like those of Liszt, economical and utterly contemporary. The sonata is in the unusual key of F sharp minor. Who else wrote a sonata in F sharp minor? Mentor Brahms’s Op 2, composed in 1852, clearly provided the muse for d’Albert’s mammoth effort—witness the 3/4 first movement with its energetic octaves, wide-ranging compass and its triplet figures; the second in 2/4, similar now and then in thematic shapes; and the final movement with its Introduzione sostenuto, comparable, though different in intention, with d’Albert’s Einleitung und Fuge: Sehr breit. Perhaps both works evoke the powerful spectre of Beethoven’s giant ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata. Whereas Brahms’s Finale develops a little in the mode of Beethoven’s F sharp major, Op 78, d’Albert exerts his Bachian muscles and produces a skilful triple fugue. Here at work is the transcriber of Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor, the Prelude and Fugue in D and a further six Preludes and Fugues for organ. Do we not also recognize clearly the layout of Bach’s ‘St Anne’ Fugue, BWV552? The sostenuto pedal is a welcome friend when rendering this movement, and one would be helped by a few organ pedals as well! The contrapuntal writing, reminiscent at first of Mendelssohn, is clever and noble at the same time. Whether or not it is stylistically convincing is for the individual listener to decide. The Langsam second movement, too, shows intelligent craftsmanship at the service of emotional music-making—the combination of the two themes for the final section, previously presented individually, achieves a beautiful duet against a soulful accompaniment. One of my favourite observations of d’Albert’s playing concerns this sonata and is quoted in John Bird’s tome on Percy Grainger. In 1897 Grainger wrote:
D’Albert gave a piano recital soon after I got to Frankfurt, and I was enthralled by his slapdash English style … he played his own Piano Sonata with his feet and hands flying all over the place and wrong notes one or two to the dozen. Of course, d’Albert was full of un-English blood and un-English backgrounds, yet his overweeningness, his Cockney patter, his flirtuousness, his overpowering energy were all as truly English as his early influences and his early pianistic training. When I saw d’Albert swash around over the piano with the wrong notes flying to the left and right and the whole thing a welter of recklessness, I said to myself ‘That’s the way I must play’. I’m afraid I learnt his propensity for wrong notes all too thoroughly.
from notes by Piers Lane © 1997